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The Curse and Mystery Of The Top 100 Wine Lists

December 5, 2019 4 comments

Lists and numbers – who doesn’t like that? We, humans, are all about lists, we like to sort things out – to-do lists, shopping lists, “best” lists, “best of the best ” lists, Top 10 lists, Top 100 lists. No area of people’s interest is immune to the lists – and of course, the world of wine is no exception – come to the end of the year, and you are guaranteed to see lists and lists of the lists, ranking wines, wineries, regions, winemakers, what have you.

I don’t know how much attention you are paying to the top wine lists. Talking about myself, I like to ponder at the Top 100 lists, especially the one produced by Wine Spectator – not because it is any better or different than the others, but simply because I had been a subscriber for a long time, and it formed more into a habit. My main interest is to see what wines can I recognize, and then to play with the data a bit – countries, prices, grapes. I’m a number junkie. It is always fun to organize numbers in a few different ways, no matter if it means anything or not, and so the Top 100 lists present a good opportunity to conduct such a “research”.

Before we delve into the numbers, let’s talk about the Mystery. What is mysterious about the top 100 wine lists? I would say most everything? How the wines are chosen? How wine #1  is decided? According to the information on the James Suckling web site, they select the top 100 wines out of the 25,000 wines tasted throughout the year. How do decide on 100 out of 25,000? Do you run a separate list of potential candidates throughout the year, or do you sit down at the end of the year and try honestly recall the most memorable wines of the year? What role the ratings play?

Here is what Wine Spectator says on the subject: “Each year, Wine Spectator editors survey the wines reviewed over the previous 12 months and select our Top 100, based on quality, value, availability and excitement”. I like the “excitement” part, this is how I decide on my top dozen wine of the year. The other two publications I studied with Top 100 lists don’t talk about their methodology, they just talk about the content of their lists.

So here are some stats we can gain from looking into the details of the Top 100 lists.

Wine Spectator:

Wine Spectator offers two lists – the regular Top 100 Wine and Top 100 Value Wines, which includes wines priced under $25 (you can find all the lists here). I didn’t spend time with the top value list, so all the numbers below are related to the Top 100 list:

  • Distribution by country: France – 23, California – 22, Italy – 21, Spain – 7, Australia and Oregon – 5 each, Chile and Portugal – 3 each, Austria, Germany, New Zealand, and Washington – 2each, Argentina, Israel, and South Africa – 1 each
  • Distribution by the wine type – 74 reds, 21 whites, 1 Rosé, and 4 Sparkling.
  • Prices – most expensive – $197, least expensive – $13. 14 wines are priced above $100, 13 wines are in the $75 – $99 range, 11 wines are in the $50 to $74 range, 27 wines are priced in the $25 – $49 range, and 35 wines are in the $13 – $25 range.
  • Ratings: the top score is 98, the lowest is 90. There is only one wine on the list with a rating of 98, 6 wines have a rating of 97. The ratings of 96, 95 and 94 are assigned to 14 wines each. 11 wines have a rating of 93, 10 wines each have ratings of 92 and 91, and 20 wines have a rating of 90.
  • Wine Spectator’s top wine of the year 2019 was 2016 Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien with a rating of 97 and priced at $98.

Wine Enthusiast:

Wine Enthusiast produces not one, but 3 Top Wine lists – Top 100 Wines, Top 100 Best Buys, and Top 100 Cellar Selections – these links will allow you to retrieve PDFs for each list. General notes on Wine Enthusiast site say that more than 24,000 wines are tasted during the year and afterwards condensed into the 3 Top Wine lists. Note that Wine Enthusiast Best Buys list covers only wines under $15. Focusing on the Top 100, I did a limited analysis, using the data already provided in the PDF file:

  • Distribution by country: California – 18, Italy – 17, France – 16, Australia, Oregon and Spain – 5 each, Argentina, Chile, Portugal and Washington – 4 each, Austria and Germany – 3 each, NY State and South Africa – 2 each, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Uruguay and Virginia – 1 each
  • Prices – most expensive – $114, least expensive – $16. Only one wine is priced above $100, the majority of the wines are less than $50 with an average price of $33.
  • Ratings: the top score is 99, the lowest is 90. There is only one wine on the list with a rating of 99, 3 wines are rated at 98, 5 wines have a rating of 97, 8 wines are rated at 96. Most of the rated wines fall in the 91-93 range (55 wines)
  • Wine Enthusiast top wine of the year 2019 was NV Nino Franco Rustico Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore with a rating of 94 and priced at $20.

James Suckling:

This one is the most exclusive Top 100 club in a number of ways. First, you need to be a subscriber to see any wine details. Second, all the wines on the Top 100 list are rated 98-100 points. This is the only stats available from the James Suckling Top 100 Wines website: “We have 41 100-point wines in the list and another 35 with 99 points. The rest of the wines scored 98 points. All the wines were produced in quantities of 300 cases or more.”

Let’s leave James Suckling Top 100 list aside and talk about Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast lists. The makeup of both lists is quite similar when it comes to the countries – California, France, and Italy represent at least half of the Top 100 wines (2/3 in case of Wine Spectator list). Where the list differ quite a bit is in the pricing – 14 $100+ wines on the Wine Spectator list versus only 1 on the Wine Enthusiast. But the biggest difference to me is the Wine #1 – Grand Cru Classé versus Prosecco. Okay, call me a snob or whatever you want, but I’m really missing the point of the Wine Enthusiast choice. To my defense, I can only say one thing – I tasted this wine. Nino Franco Rustico is a nice Prosecco, and but it is really, really far away from the memorable, exciting wine. Here you go – another case of the wine list mystery.

I also wanted to talk about the “curse” of the Top 100 wine list, for sure when it comes to the one from the Wine Spectator. As soon as the wine makes it on that list, it instantly becomes unavailable. Adding to the mystery side, it is a mystery to me why an average wine consumer puts such a value on the Top 100 list nomination. But talking about availability, are we looking at the scalping phenomenon in the works? Buy bulk and resell for a quick buck? This is annoying, and it is a real problem for the wine retailers who can’t find enough of those top wines to offer them to consumers. It also gets worse every year – a friend of mine, who has a wine store in Stamford, was able to assemble about 40 Top 100 wines to offer to his customers last year – this year he will barely make it to 20.

There you have it my friends – a deeper look into the mystery (and curse) of the Top 100 wine lists. Do you pay attention to those? What do you think of this year’s top wines? Do you see any trends? Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Wine Spectotor Top 100, Perfect Holiday Gift Solution, and more

November 20, 2013 4 comments

Duboeuf Beaujolais wines 5Meritage time!

First, let’s start with the answer for the wine quiz #82, grape trivia – Gamay.

In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about red grape called Gamay. Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Gamay is closely associated with every third Thursday in November. Can you explain why?

A1: Beaujolais Nouveau is coming into town! While Beaujolais Nouveau was always the first wine of the harvest to be delivered to the restaurants and shops in Europe, in 1985 the phenomenon became more organized, settling on the third Thursday of November to make the new release available.

Q2: Carbonic maceration is an important method in production of wines made out of Gamay. Can you briefly explain what is carbonic maceration and how does it helps here?

A2: Carbonic maceration is a process where the grapes in a sealed tank are subjected to the flow of CO2, which start fermenting the juice inside of the whole grapes before they will be crushed. The resulting wine becomes fruity with very low presence of tannins. This process is particularly used inproduction of Beaujolais Nouveau and other Beaujolais wines. For more information, please refer to Wikipedia article.

Q3: Fill in the blanks: In Beaujolais, Fleuri is considered to produce the most ___ wine, and Moulin-à-Vent produces the most ___ wines.

A3: In Beaujolais, Fleuri is considered to produce the most feminine wine, and Moulin-à-Vent produces the most masculine wines. Feminine and Masculine are the descriptors typically used by wine professionals to describe the wines of Fleuri and Moulin-à-Vent wines.

Q4: Which one doesn’t belong and why:

a. Brouilly, b. Côte de Brouilly, c. Côte Chalonnaise, d. Juliénas, e. Régnié

A4: c. Côte Chalonnaise. The other four names are part of Cru de Beaujolais ten villages, but Côte Chalonnaise doesn’t belong there (it is an AOC in Burgundy).

Q5: True or False: Beaujolais Nouveau wines can be aged for a few years before consumption.

A5: False. The whole point of aging the wine is to wait for it to develop further in the bottle and become more enjoyable. Beaujolais Nouveau is meant to be enjoyed right away and should be consumed by May of next year – it doesn’t improve in the bottle.

So for the winners, Jeff the drunken cyclist continues his winning streak – he got correctly 5 out of 5, including the difficult question #3. Great job, Jeff – unlimited bragging rights are yours! I would like to also acknowledge Wayward Wine,Whine And Cheers For Wine and Eat with Namie  who all correctly answered 4 questions out of 5. Well done!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

On Monday, November 18th, Wine Spectator published their Top 100 list of Wines. Yes, I know, many dismiss the whole notion of Wine Spectator ratings and Top lists as closely associated with the advertizement dollars spent with publication. True or not, but I still have a lot of respect to Wine Spectator and definitely curios to see their “top wines” list. As Wine Spectator celebrates 25th anniversary, they whole web site is open to the public (typically it requiressubscription). I would highly recommend that you will take advantage of this opportunity and explore the site which has a great wealth of wine information. Also, here is the link to the WS Top 100 wines of 2013. I have to admit that I’m happy with Wine Spectator’s choice for the wine of the year – 2004 Cune Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva. In general, Cune Imperial makes great wines, and I think it is an excellent choice for the wine of the year.

Thinking about holiday gifts? Does your list include any wine lovers? If yes, you are in luck, but you will need to act quick. On December 2nd, WTSO will conduct a Gift Marathon (full info can be found here). As a traditional WTSO Marathon, there will be no announcements of new wines. But each wine will come gift packaged, with one bottle and two varietally correct Riedel glasses in the box. Most importantly – free shipping on each package (no minimums), and each packaged can be shipped directly to your gift recipient – this is the best part! Prices start from $44.95 per box (free shipping). I think this is a deal not to be missed, so point your browser to WTSO on December 2nd and happy hunting!

You know Wine-Searcher is a great resource for finding the wines online and comparing the prices. Are you curious what the other people looking for on the wine-searcher? Here is an interesting article, which tells you what the consumers in America are looking for. Based on the article, looks like most of the times people are looking for red Bordeaux blends – which makes sense, as there are a lot more Bordeaux blends produced nowadays. Anyway, for your own analysis and lots more data, take a look at the article.

When you make dinner, how often do you think about what wine should be opened for the food you are serving? Sometimes the pairing can be quite difficult, so I have no problems taking my food and wine separately. But when you hit the mark and the wine and food “work” together, it becomes the whole new level of experience. To help you in this process of pairing food and wine, here is the link to the web site I recently came across – I think it has a lot of good suggestions. Take a look – you might be able to pleasantly surprise yourself and your guests during your next dinner.

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty – but refill is on its way. Until the next time – cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Tempranillo Day, Beaujolais Nouveau Coming Up, The Widow Who Reinvented Champagne, and more

November 13, 2013 8 comments

DSC_0185 Retro Cellars Petite SirahMeritage time!

First, let’s start with the answer for the wine quiz #81, grape trivia – Petite Sirah.

In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about red grape called Petite Sirah. Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Name the grape: In California, Petite Sirah is a popular blending addition to ___?

A1: Zinfandel. You can find a small percentage of Petite Sirah (5% – 10%) in many Zinfandel bottlings

Q2: When it comes to the wines in the United States, there is an interesting similarity between the Petite Sirah and Primitivo. Can you explain?

A2: The similarity comes from the fact that both Petite Sirah and Primitivo were the part of the same request to the TTB (government organization in charge of labeling), to allow use of Durif interchangeably with Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel with Primitivo. It is interesting to note that contrary to the information in Wikipedia, which says that both requests were never resolved, it appears that Durif is officially recognized as a synonym to Petite Sirah, while Primitivo and Zinfandel are not – you can find the complete list of the approved names through the link to the list of approved grape names in this US government document.

Q3: Which one doesn’t belong and why:

a. Arizona, b. Illinois, c. New Mexico, d. New York, e. Texas

A3: d. New York – there is no Petite Sirah wines produced in New York (at least in the meaningful quantities).

Q4: In the bad, rainy growing season conditions in California, Petite Sirah can be a savior – can you explain why and how does it help?

A4: As the Petite Sirah is mildew resistant and provides supple tannins, color and structure, in the bad years it can be added to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and other wines to improve the quality.

Q5: What love has to do with the Petite Sirah?

A5: “P.S. I Love You” is a consortium dedicated to the promotion of Petite Sirah wines.

Talking about the results, the drunken cyclist continues his winning streak, so he gets ( again) the prize of unlimited bragging rights. Well done!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

First of all, tomorrow, November 14th, is an International Tempranillo Day! Tempranillo, the noble grape of Spain and Portugal, and rising star of Texas, is a source of many wonderful long-living wines, and it is definitely the grape worth celebrating. TAPAS, the society of producers and advocates of Tempranillo, lists a number of events celebrating the grape. But you don’t even need to go anywhere to celebrate the Tempranillo – just grab a bottle, may be of Magnificent Rioja (but really, any Tempranillo wine will do), pour, smell, sip and enjoy!

Now, the next Thursday, November 21st, is a third Thursday in November. Do you know what it means? Yes, you are right – Beaujolais Nouveau! Every third Thursday in November, the young Beaujolais wine of the same year’s vintage, called Beaujolais Nouveau, is becoming available in all the wine stores around the world. It is not just the wine – Beaujolais Nouveau also means celebration and fun. Don’t forget to get the bottle and join the festivities!

I’m sure you know that classic Champagne with the yellow label on it – Veuve Cliquot, which would literally translate into a “widow Cliquot”. But do you know the role the Barbe-Nicole Cliquot Ponsardin, the actual person behind that label, played in pretty much enabling the whole Champagne industry to exist, and for the mere mortals to be able to afford a bottle of Champagne? Barbe-Nicole’s  perseverance and her invention of the riddling were some of the key elements in making Champagne into what we readily enjoy today. Here is an article for you which is definitely worth reading – it is somewhat long but very fascinating and will be well worth your time.  And you might even complement the reading with the glass of Champagne in your hand – it will be very appropriate.

Last piece I want to bring to your attention is Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of 2013 list, gradually exposed at the rate of a few wines per day at the Wine Spectator web site. There are various contests taking place right now to predict the Wine Spectator Wine of the Year 2013, including the one which Wine Spectator runs by itself. So far the Wines #10 – #7 had been revealed, and more wines will be announced every day finishing with the Wine of the Year on Friday, November 15th. The full top 100 list will be published on Monday, November 18th. Looking at the 4 of the top 10 announced so far, I can only say that I’m a bit surprised. One of the selection criteria for the Top 10 is affordability – with the wines #10 and #9 priced at $135, and wines #8 and #7 priced at $120, I feel like I missed the memo about substantial increase in my salary, as those prices are definitely outside of the “affordable” realm, at least in my book. Also, as “availability” is another factor, highly allocated Quilceida Creek (wine #10) makes it also an interesting choice. I plan to come back to this subject next week, when the full Top 100 list will be announced – but any of your comments meanwhile will be most welcome. 

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty – but refill is on its way. Until the next time – cheers!

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